Molde v Celtic: Table-topping Norwegians target another win

By Liam McLeodBBC Scotland
Molde top Celtic's Europa League group after picking up four points from six
Europa League Group A: Molde v Celtic
Date: Thursday, 22 October Venue: Aker Stadion, Molde Kick-off: 20:05 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland; live text commentary on BBC Sport website

Celtic's Europa League campaign has been a bittersweet affair.

Ronny Deila will be irked they have taken just two points from their opening two group stage matches when realistically it could, and even should, have been six.

That is in contrast to the opening by the Scottish champions' next opponents.

While their more illustrious competitors had no divine right to be at the summit of Group A, little Molde's impressive start has blown the race to the knock-out stage wide open.

The 2014 Norwegian league winners' start will cause equal frustration to Deila that his team has failed to make hay while group favourites Ajax and Fenerbahce toiled.

The exalted position that Molde find themselves in has surprised everyone, not least those in Norway who have watched the club's timid title defence at close quarters.

Domestic disappointments

Currently seventh in the Tippeligaen, their mediocre season is demonstrated by the fact the club sit almost equidistant between leaders Rosenborg and the relegation play-off with just four league games left in the Norwegian football calendar.

And to rub salt in the wound, they were unceremoniously ejected from the Norwegian Cup in the quarter finals by Viking Stavanger. Their 2014 double-winning manager Tor Ole Skullerud paid with his job.

Molde's Europa League campaign, however, has provided them with welcome sanctuary to their domestic deficiencies and inconsistencies, beating Fenerbahce away and drawing with Ajax at home.

Nir Bitton (left)
Celtic led twice against Ajax but failed to pick up three points

Like the rest of Group A, they suffered Champions League pain, exiting in the third qualifying round to Dinamo Zagreb.

They would eliminate Belgium's Standard Liege on away goals in the play-off of this tournament, thanks primarily to an impressive 2-0 home win.

And it is at home they have built the foundations of their solid start to this campaign having gone undefeated in their four ties at the Aker Stadion so far.

This tie represents a difficult proposition for Celtic, despite Molde's domestic problems. On their day they can be as potent as Malmo, a potency Deila's men are well aware of following their Champions League exit to the Swedes.

Experience and goals

Their main man is a defender in the shape of centre-half Vegard Forren.

Southampton once invested £4m for the 27-times-capped Norway international who has been an integral component of a national team that has a Euro 2016 play-off against Hungary to look forward to.

Incredibly, a man who made his debut for the club in May 1993 and is the oldest player in this season's Europa League is likely to captain the side if fit.

Europa League Group A table

Midfielder and 40-year-old local man Daniel Berg Hestad's crowning glory came when he helped the club to their first ever title in their centenary season in 2011.

As Fenerbahce found out to their cost, Molde can be an effective counter-attacking team and Celtic will face a different kind of challenge to the ones posed by Ajax and the Turks.

The former bad-boy of Norwegian football is likely to be given the nod up front.

Tommy Hoiland may have calmed down in recent years, but he is still seen in that light by many in his homeland.

Hoiland scored Molde's first in Istanbul from the penalty spot and has been chosen over Deila's former Stromsgodset striker Ola Kamara in their group matches so far.

Kamara and Celtic's Stefan Johansen helped the Parkhead boss win the title in 2013 with their old club, the only Norwegian championship not won by Molde in the last four years.

Molde's Tommy Hoiland (left)
Molde's Tommy Hoiland (left) scored against Fenerbahce in the Norwegian side's 3-1 win

They will also have another scorer from match-day one in Turkey in Moroccan-born attacker Mohamed Elyounoussi, who is back from suspension.

Moe's Molde

As inconsistent as Molde have been this season, things improved since former backroom coach Erling Moe took the reins.

Under Moe, who was very much a stop-gap appointment and has now made way for the return of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Molde lost only twice and one of those was the 3-1 loss in Liege that failed to derail their European adventure.

However, when Deila returns to his homeland, he will be confident they can pick up their first victory in the group. He certainly won't have had to spend hours watching DVDs of this week's opposition.

As previously noted, Molde can be as effective as Malmo but, man for man, they are not at the same level as their Swedish counterparts.

Deila will want to improve on his head-to-head record against the team from Norway's west coast.

The 40-year-old won only four of his 14 clashes with Molde as Stromsgodset boss.

Win number five against them as a manager, with a home game against them to come, and the Scottish champions can start to think about the last 32.